Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turning Tricks

Did you know the average female prostitute in the United States is only 13 years old?

In Ellen Hopkins most recent novel, Tricks, she explores the reasons behind young people turning tricks, also known as prostitution. Tricks has five main characters that all resort to selling their bodies for different reasons.

Eden is the daughter of a local pastor and her family is very religious. She believes, but not as whole-heartedly as the rest of her family. At church one day, she meets Alex, the most wonderful boy ever! They begin a relationship, but keep it a secret because Eden knows her parents will not approve. Unfortunately, Eden is caught and sent away to a religious camp for young people. While there, Eden tries to figure out how to leave. She learns that good behavior will not do so she resorts to using her body. Jerome, one of the counselors, is infatuated with Eden and she uses that to her advantage and he helps her escape. Eden winds up in Las Vegas, trying to make ends meet.

Seth is gay. He has known it since he was a little boy. He lives with his father on their farm. His mother passed away from cancer recently. Seth hides his secret from his father. He travels to other cities to meet other men and begins a relationship with a man named Loren. All is well until Loren has to do an internship far away and their relationship ends. Seth’s dad discovers his secret and kicks him out of the house. Seth doesn’t know where to go so he goes to a gay bar to find someone who will ‘keep’ him. Seth becomes Carl’s trophy boyfriend and they move to Las Vegas. Seth’s sole responsibility is to look good, which he does and attracts the attention of a man. Carl finds out and Seth is kicked out again. He eventually finds a new man to ‘keep’ him and works on the side in hopes of moving out and starting his own life.

Whitney lives in her older sister’s shadow. Her mother could care less about her and her father is never home. Whitney is dating an older boy named Lucas. One night, she loses her virginity to him and tells him she loves him. After that, he stops talking to her. She confronts him and he tells her that the thrill is over and having sex with a virgin isn’t as good as he thought it would be. Devastated she calls Bryn. Bryn is a man she met at the mall who was clearly interested in her, but she wasn’t because at the time she was dating Lucas. Bryn comes and picks her up and consoles her. Whitney falls head over heels for him. Bryn has to move to Las Vegas for work and asks Whitney to go with. She does, but later on realizes it was a mistake. Now it’s too late. She is addicted to heroin and Bryn is her john, also known as a pimp.

Ginger lives with her Grandma, Iris (mom), and her five brothers and sisters. Iris is a prostitute and even sold Ginger to men while she was growing up. One night, she comes home to find a man waiting for her. He said he already paid in full and Ginger knows exactly what that means. After he has left, she decides she needs to get away. Ginger runs away with Alex, her girlfriend, to Las Vegas where they begin working for an escort service. Toward the end, Ginger and Alex are arrested for soliciting a cop. Ginger decides it time to call Gram.

Cody lives with his mom, stepdad, and younger brother in Las Vegas. His stepdad died, his brother ends up in juvenile detention, and he maxes out the family credit cards with his gambling. Cody realizes his mother is not going to make ends meet waiting tables at Denny’s and decides he needs to do something to help out.

In Tricks, Hopkins delivers yet another ‘edge of your seat’ novel. Hopkins specifically wrote this novel to explore the reasons behind teenage prostitution. All five of her characters turn to prostitution because they feel like it is the only option they have left to fix their situation or survive. I would recommend Tricks for juniors or seniors in high school. Tricks should also not be used as part of a curriculum in my opinion. As with her other novels, Tricks is a book written for mature readers. It deals with the controversial issue of prostitution, which many parents would likely oppose. In addition, some students would not be able to handle some of the graphic depictions that Hopkins has written. I do not think Tricks can be used in other subject areas either. You could use some excerpts to highlight different topics for health. For example, Whitney becomes addicted to heroin and Hopkins describes how she looks. A health teacher could read this excerpt to show the physical side effects of heroin use. I think Tricks would work best as a choice novel for mature students. Like Identical, Tricks is a long novel (over 600 pages) and is written in narrative poetry. Students may be apprehensive to read Tricks because of its length and style. Once again, I enjoyed this novel. If you like Identical or Tricks, I would highly recommend reading Crank and its sequel, Glass. Crank still deals with serious issues, but it is not as controversial as her most recent novels.


Krystal Tanami said...

Wow this book sounds really good. You intrigued me by giving plot details but not o many as the story was given away. I read Crank as well and think that if it is any indication of writing style I will read the rest.

Anne said...

This book sounds intense! I have now pout all her books on my list. Great review. I can't wait to read it. It seems as if the "best" YAL books are not curriculum ready but would make great supplemental readings for idependent students.

Andra said...

Krystal & Anne,

I'm glad you both want to read it! Hopkins' books are tough and in your face, but written very well and I believe if not all are based on truth. I know Crank is about actual events that happened to several people and Hopkins put them together for one character. I think she is a phenomenal writer.

I also agree that many of the books we have read aren't quite 'curriculum ready' but most of them seem like they would make great choice books and a lot of them would challenge our students, which is great.

Thank you both for your comments.


T. Arnold said...

I would have to agree that this book is best suited for upper high school students. There are a lot of serious issues discussed in this book and a more mature audience would have to read it.

I like how the book addresses the fact that many people feel forced into a situation. Teachers could ask their students to choose one of the scenarios described in this novel and ask them to write about what they would do if they were in the same situation.

Andra said...

T. Arnold,

I like your suggestion! It would encourage students to think about positive ways to deal with tough situations.



radcinbad said...


Your hook really got me, I had no idea the average age of a prostitute in the U.S. is thirteen. While I found this disturbing, it also made me reflect on the comments being made...If the average age of a prostitute in this country is thirteen, are novels like this and others that explore sexuality and drug use truly inappropriate? Are we minimizing the maturity of our students? While I agree this book might not be a curriculum must have, your blog made me wonder if my normally conservative (for lack of a better word) views about the adolescent experience and are off base.

Ms. Edukated said...

So this book is a series of stories about teen prostitutes? Is it based on true events? This book sounds very interesting. It seems to depict how the smallest thing can send a teenager over the edge, especially when they don't have many options. I think this will be on my summer reading list.

Andra said...

There are five characters in this book who all turn to prostitution for different reasons.

I believe they are based on true events as are most of her books, but the characters are fictional.

Tom Philion said...


I had a similar response as you in your comments. I think kids can "handle" the content, the issue is not whether they can, but "how" they handle, and whether or not teachers want to delve into the issues involved in "handling" material like this, which is complicated because some kids have experience "handling" topics and conversations that this book would produce in very analytical and serious ways, whereas others do not have this experienc, and so think it "odd" or even "inappropriate" in just about any context (including home). I agree it might be best to therefore work with excerpts, but I would think that highlighting the impacts of early sexual practices is just as important as highlighting the impacts of heroin, maybe even more so given the greater involvement in sex lifelong, for most people, than with heroin.


Anonymous said...

A john is not a pimp, a john is a trick/client, a pimp is a manager, does not pay for the prostitute.. please update your site.